Seamount Expedition Kicks Off in Costa Rica

Fish swimming near Cocos Island off the coast of Costa Rica. The marine protected area surrounding the island is an important part of the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape. (© CI/ Photo by Sterling Zumbrunn)

I’m briefly back home in Hawaii and am preparing to fly to Central America to begin a National Geographic expedition to explore seamounts off the coast of Costa Rica. With the large amount of travel I’m doing these days I’m very much beginning to feel like Jules Verne’s famous character Phileas Fogg from “Around the World in Eighty Days.”

First, let me backtrack; we’ve been talking about a story on seamounts for many years and have made a number of trips: beginning in the Sea of Cortez, and more recently including a trip in early 2011 to Raja Ampat, Indonesia and later to the Cortes bank off the coast of California. Seamounts are underwater volcanoes — some extinct, some still active — whose size and expanse can rival the Rocky Mountains. They are unique for their biodiversity which rival that of any coral reef system. Many endemic species (species unique to a specific geography) — as well as species new to science — have been found around seamounts, so they provide a significant opportunity for study.

My good friend and world-renowned underwater photographer Brian Skerry will be co-leading this trip with me; together, we hope to paint a compelling picture of these unique systems. Our team will also include Dr. Larry Madin from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Dr. Peter Auster from the University of Connecticut; Alan Dynner from the New England Aquarium; and Mike Velings, a Dutch entrepreneur and founder of the Netherlands-based “A-Spark – Good Ventures,” a company focused on environmentally-friendly business models.

Our destination is Cocos Island, which is found 300 miles [483 kilometers] southwest of Cabo Blanco in Costa Rica. In 1994, Jacques Cousteau called it the “most beautiful island in the world.” In order to get there we will be travelling on the Argo, a 130-foot [40-meter] vessel that includes both deep-diving submersibles and ROV (remotely operated vehicles), which we’ll use to help us explore the surrounding seamounts and to hopefully better understand these systems.

Greg Stone

I’m very excited to reach Costa Rica and to begin this final chapter of our seamounts adventure. The final story will come to fruition later in 2012 in National Geographic Magazine. I look forward to providing another blog update during the expedition to let you know how things are going — stay tuned!

Greg Stone is CI’s chief scientist for oceans. This expedition is supported in part by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-1114251. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. Read the next post in this series.